Russell T Davies is the new Doctor Who showrunner.
In a move that surprised virtually everyone, the BBC recently announced that writer Russell T Davies would be overseeing the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who and “series beyond.” This was a monumental announcement, and unexpected; few people believed that Davies would even so much as write another Doctor Who script, let alone come back to oversee a whole era.
For those of you who don’t know, Russell T Davies was at the helm of the show for its 2005 relaunch, and oversaw some of the most popular adventures in the series’ history. Moreover, he was responsible for the casting of the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, who, despite leaving the series in 2010, remains one of the most popular incarnations of the Time Lord to date.
So why has the BBC taken the surprising decision to bring back a former showrunner?
Well, as mentioned previously, there is no denying that the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who was one of the most popular of all time. And that is not just nostalgia talking. Some of the stories that he oversaw have an enduring legacy. For instance, the Weeping Angels were introduced during his third season (albeit created by Steven Moffat). And he devised the infamous Bad Wolf plot arc, which has cemented itself firmly in popular culture – indeed, the production company that is assisting Davies on the next series of Doctor Who is called Bad Wolf Productions.
Moreover, there are ‘catchphrases’ such as “Are you my mummy?” as spoken by the harrowing ‘empty child’ in his first season. And then of course there is David Tennant’s heart-breaking final line as the Tenth Doctor – “I don’t want to go!” – which Russell T Davies penned.
And it’s not just the hardcore fans who appreciate Davies’ contributions. His time on the show (starting in 2005 and ending in 2010) is one of the most-watched in Doctor Who history. In terms of viewing figures, few eras come close to matching his numbers. In fact, his tenure is only marginally beaten by Season 17, whose episodes frequently exceeded 10 million – although this accomplishment was helped by the fact that its rival channel was on strike.
So the prospect of having Russell T Davies return to the Doctor Who fold is an exciting one. And yet, at the same time, the announcement took many people by surprise, as most were expecting to see the introduction of a new creative force. Indeed, in other circumstances, it could be perceived as a backwards step to bring back a writer from the past; franchises are often under pressure to be forwards-thinking, original, and to defy expectations.
At the same time, there is comfort in the familiar, and Doctor Who has been in unfamiliar territory for quite some time. For a start, the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor was something of a voyage into the unknown (as there had never been a female Doctor before). And then there was the reveal of the Ruth Doctor in Fugitive of the Judoon, and the rewriting of the Doctor’s history in The Timeless Children. Then there was the redesign of the Daleks in the 2021 special. Fans reacted to these developments in different ways, but all were left wondering where the show was going to go next.
The return of Russell T Davies, on the other hand, is like meeting up with an old friend. You’re instantly reminded of all the good times you had together, and you’re excited about what’s to come. After all, there’s nothing boring about nostalgia or anticipation, and Russell T Davies brings both.
It’s also interesting to note that Russell T Davies’ era has underpinned some of the most popular Doctor Who offerings in recent years. Tennant, in particular, has been cropping up everywhere of late, in crossover comics and video games with the Thirteenth Doctor, in a plethora of Big Finish audio adventures, and in the epic Time Lord Victorious saga which spanned books, CDs, and online animations. And fans have been lapping him up in their droves.
Similarly, the return of the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston (who, again, was cast by Davies), has proved to be immensely popular with fans. He recently returned for a new series of adventures for Big Finish, and it has been announced that he will be coming back for a second season in 2022.
Simply put, the Russell T Davies era sells. And whilst Doctor Who is an entertainment property, it is also a business. If the paying customers want something badly enough, why not give it to them? Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Russell T Davies cast David Tennant as the Doctor (again!). After all, it was strongly hinted in the 50th anniversary special that Time Lords can re-wear previous faces, so why couldn’t the Fourteenth Doctor look like the Tenth? Stranger things have happened.
It may even be one of those announcements that (almost) unites fandom in rapturous celebration – and there aren’t many of those.
And whilst, inevitably, there are some people who aren’t keen on the idea, there are many reasons to think that the next era of Doctor Who will be non-divisive and fun. And that is a very exciting prospect. Fans will always disagree about things, but the last few years have reshaped Doctor Who in many ways, and some of the responses to those changes have been polarising. Perhaps the next Russell T Davies era will be the one that reunites a divided fandom.
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